Category Archives: Awards

Little Rock District Inducts New Gallery Member

By: Laurie Driver

During most of his 29 years with the Army Corps of Engineers, PJ Spaul was the voice and face of Little Rock District. Sure, he crafted news releases, speeches and public affairs plans. He helped at public events, and even launched an employee newspaper. Yet most people remember him explaining Corps activities in the news media.

Retiree PJ Spaul is presented a plaque by Craig Pierce, Little Rock District’s deputy district engineer for project management inducting him into the district’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees June 2018.
Retiree PJ Spaul is presented a plaque by Craig Pierce, Little Rock District’s deputy district engineer for project management inducting him into the district’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees June 2018.

During his career, which spanned from 1983 until his retirement in 2012, he responded to reporters’ questions more than 5,000 times.  However, in June 2018 Spaul wasn’t the spokesman on the news, he was in the news when he was inducted into Little Rock District’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees.

“I personally know many of the members of the gallery and know what great work they did,” Spaul said after being presented the award at the District’s Engineer Day.  “To be added to this group of employees is just so humbling.”

Spaul began his career with the Little Rock District in December 1983 as a public affairs specialist.  He became the district’s public affairs officer in 2007 where he led his team who used a variety of public information tools to help save lives and protect property during the many floods and natural disasters experienced throughout the district.  Through media queries, public gatherings, social media, and Internet efforts, he and his team developed and disseminated timely, essential information through multiple channels to ensure the public had news it needed.

“PJ was always so cool under fire,” said Mike Biggs, chief of the Hydraulic and Hydrology Branch. “He taught me lessons that I still pass along to my employees.  For example, while dealing with confrontational media personnel, PJ would say, ‘don’t get into arguments with people who buy ink by the barrel.’  PJ just had a talent for communicating with people in tough situations.”

Spaul’s job covered all of the district’s varied missions.

In the 1980s, while President Reagan was engaged in arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, he was the district’s spokesman to national and world media during dismantlement of 17 Inter-continental ballistic missile silos in Arkansas. Spaul also provided public affairs responses in Arkansas and Missouri during the floods of 1986, 1990, 2008 and 2011; three barge accidents at Corps dams; and multiple tornado recovery efforts in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“PJ was focused on educating our elected officials, stakeholders and the general public,” said Biggs.  “He would remind me that we have honorable missions that are authorized by Congress, but because our missions are so complex, not everyone would understand or agree with how we do our jobs.”

Beginning in the 1980’s, Spaul communicated risk management issues for dam safety rehabilitation projects at Wilbur D. Mills, Beaver, and Table Rock dams, and most recently, during the Clearwater Dam Major Rehabilitation.  He also served as an instructor of risk communications for the Corps’ Learning Center Dam Safety Course.

Spaul was also the voice and face of Little Rock District for the construction of Montgomery Point Lock & Dam on the White River. From its inception in the 1980’s to its dedication in 2004, he managed news coverage and public relations for what was the Corps’ largest civil works construction project underway at the time.

Spaul also deployed outside of the Little Rock District in support of the Corps’ emergency response missions.

PJ Spaul (right) during a national press conference in Little Rock, Ark., during the flood of 1990 on the Arkansas River. Also at the press conference was (left) Col. Charles McCloskey, Little Rock District’s commander and (center) Brig. Gen. Robert C. Lee, commander of the Southwestern Division.
PJ Spaul (right) during a national press conference in Little Rock, Ark., during the flood of 1990 on the Arkansas River. Also at the press conference was (left) Col. Charles McCloskey, Little Rock District’s commander and (center) Brig. Gen. Robert C. Lee, commander of the Southwestern Division.

He went to New Orleans in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina during the unwatering of the city. Spaul worked long hours to provide vital information to storm victims, local officials, and the media. His knowledge, skills, and abilities were used to educate the public with facts that helped people understand why the levees failed and what the Corps was doing for them and their city.

During the 2008 floods in Arkansas and Southern Missouri, Spaul developed innovative responses to the media and the public that helped communicate complicated hydrologic and hydraulic information.  The 2008 flood was a public relations challenge because it was not the result of a single storm, instead it was from the cumulative effects of a series of repeated storm systems spread over months, each storm event creating ever-changing scenarios.  For his work during this flood event, Spaul was awarded the 2008 Michael C. Robinson Practitioner of the Year Award from USACE Chief of Engineers.

In 2011 austere budgets threatened to force mission adjustments that included closing some Little Rock District park facilities.  Spaul and his public affairs team, helped the district gain public understanding and acceptance through a community relations program with elected officials, partners, stakeholders and the public.

“Because of PJ and the PAO team’s attention to detail, the district was successful in generating offers from local governments and volunteer groups to take on maintenance responsibilities so that many of the facilities slated for closure could remain open,” said Titus Hardiman, chief of the Natural Resources Management Branch.

Their efforts were lauded by the Corps’ chain of command because other districts were seeking appropriate ways to reduce their levels of service as well.  The vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development said it was a model for others in the Corps.  For this outstanding effort, Spaul and his team were awarded the Corps’ 2011 Locke L. Mouton Award in the Community Relations category.

Then again in the spring of 2011, the Little Rock District experienced a historic flood event.  The flooding affected all of Little Rock District’s multi-purpose lakes and navigational projects (25 dams, 308 miles of navigation channel, 178 public parks, seven hydroelectric plants and more). Communities, homes, businesses and farmland along the rivers and many tributaries were flooded, especially the Arkansas, White, and Black rivers.

In all, the flooding reached record levels in nine of the district’s 12 multi-purpose lakes. Six of the lakes exceeded their maximum capacity, and spillway releases were necessary more than once to prevent the dams from overtopping.  Before the water stopped rising, 60 percent of the district’s park facilities were flooded, and many remained flooded through the recreation season.

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System also experienced unusually high flows.  The Arkansas River normally flows at 20,000 to 40,000 cubic feet per second, but during the worst of the flooding, river flows exceeded 320,000 cfs, requiring small craft advisories that remained in place through the spring and summer months.

Levees along the White, Black and Little Red rivers experienced water levels that had not been seen since 1982.  Some aging levees along the rivers were unable to hold back the onslaught. The Black River reached its second highest level in more than 90 years at Pocahontas, Ark.

Spaul again devised transparent messages to educate the public concerning safety, water levels, water releases, and how the Corps greatly mitigated the damage to people and property.

PJ Spaul is interview by a KTHV reporter in Little Rock, Ark., during the first low water inspection of the Arkansas River by the Mississippi River Commission in 2010.
PJ Spaul is interview by a KTHV reporter in Little Rock, Ark., during the first low water inspection of the Arkansas River by the Mississippi River Commission in 2010.

During his career, Spaul earned an excellent reputation with his supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates.  He remained calm under pressure and was highly sought after as a principal advisor to the command group, senior staff, and field offices on fast-breaking communication issues.

“PJ’s level headed approach to understanding the Corps’ many missions and ability to communicate helped the Little Rock District build healthy working relationships with our stakeholders,” Biggs said.

Spaul is also a retired Army Reservist who spent 23 years as a Soldier in Active, Reserve and National Guard components.  He has served as an Infantryman, Army Journalist, Broadcast Journalist and Senior Instructor.  He has served as editor of two Army newspapers and a weekly university newspaper.  He has been a news reporter and a state bureau chief for the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and has completed graduate work at the University of South Carolina.  He is a graduate of the Army Advanced Public Affairs Officers Course, the Defense Information School Broadcast Journalism Course and the DINFOS Senior Public Affairs Course.

He is married to the former Eva Mosley.  The couple has two grown children, six grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

Spaul is the 65th member of Little Rock District’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees, all of whom were recognized for their significant contributions during their tenures with the district.


Chris Turner is “Making a Difference”

Chris Turner makes a difference every day for those U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees on the lower portion of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS), and at the Little Rock District’s annual awards ceremony he was formally recognized for his efforts. Turner received the District’s Making a Difference Award June 21, in front of hundreds of his fellow Corps employees.

Chris Turner (right) accepts the 2018 “Making a Difference” award from Chris Roark, the Little Rock District executive officer. Turner is the MKARNS Lock and Dam Equipment Mechanic Supervisor for locks 1-3.

According to his citation, “Turner has consistently established a high benchmark for safety, integrity, knowledge and dedication to the navigation mission. His “can-do” attitude coupled with his willingness to help others and excellent work ethic has made him an immeasurable members of the MKARNS team.”

The “Making a Difference” award is given to those who consistently go above and beyond all expectations and have garnered unwavering respect from peers and co-workers. The award was created in 2008 by former DPM Randy Hathaway and the awardees include employees and some of our partners and stakeholders. The very first recipient was MGEN Ed Jackson when he commanded Little Rock District in the 2008 time-frame. To date, only 29 “Making a Difference” awards have be presented to deserving recipients.

Spotlight on Chris S. Turner

Position:  MKARNS Lock & Dam Equipment Mechanic Supervisor

Years with SWL:  12 years

Hometown:  Tichnor, Arkansas

Hobbies:  Spending time with my wife and family. I also enjoy going to the deer camp, hunting with my boys, and working in the yard.

Q:  You have been with the district 12 years, how has your job changed over the years?

A:   I spend more and more time on the computer and less time out in the field.

Q:  What positions have you held in the district?

A:  Started out as a lock operator in 2006 then went on to become a lock mechanic in June 2010. From there I was promoted to my current position as lockmaster in August of 2011. I supervise operations at Locks 1-3 on the lower portion of the MKARNS.

Q:  What is your favorite thing about your current position and why?

A:  The diversity of the job.  I am not always doing the same thing day in and day out. Although it is leaning towards more office time.

 Q:  What are your short and long term professional and personal goals?

A:  Professional – To be the best supervisor I can be and to mentor to new employees and try to get them started in their career in the right state of mind to have a long and rewarding career. I want them to be happy and to take pride in what they do.

A:  Personal – To be able to provide for my family and in hopes of someday retiring and watching my children grow up with families of their own.

Q:  What do you do to instill your veteran knowledge in new employees?

A:  I try to lead by example. I do not want anyone to think that I am above getting out there and working. I try to let them know that they will have a name on the river and it may be good or bad, but that is entirely up to them. I try to encourage everyone to help one another.

Q:  What do you enjoy most about your job?

A:  I like the location and that all of my three locks are different from one another and from all the other locks on the river. The three rivers all coming together and the challenges that go with it.

Q:  What are some of the biggest challenges related to your position?

A:  Getting everything I need taken care of in a timely manner. One of my pet peeves is having an email not to get answered, but sometimes I may not get to it in the time I would like due to higher priorities at the time.

Q:  What motivates you to make a difference at work and for the Corps?

A:  I like to solve problems. When someone has an issue I enjoy trying to come up with a solution that will benefit everyone. I love to let my co-workers know that someone does care what they think and that it is not just a government job.  I want them to know the reasons behind the decisions being made.

Q:  What ways have you found to balance your home life with the busy schedule you have at work?

A:  I do what I have to do for both work and home. I knew when I accepted the position what it consisted of, but it doesn’t really interfere with the family time very often. I have a very understanding and supportive wife.

Q:  Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?

A:  I am the local fire chief going on 15 years and I am also a deputy sheriff and have been for 11 years.